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Climate Change Poses Growing Threat to Maternal and Infant Health, New Research Finds

New York, NY – Climate change, one of the most pressing health threats facing humanity, is now being linked to long-term adverse health and socioeconomic effects on children born during periods of extreme heat. A systematic review of existing research has revealed alarming connections between rising temperatures and poor health outcomes for both mothers and their babies, prompting urgent calls for action.

Rising Temperatures and Health Risks

The new study highlights that global warming, an integral aspect of climate change, is exacerbating health issues, particularly among vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and children. Previous research has already established that heat exposure during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, congenital abnormalities, gestational hypertension, and low birth weight. However, this latest review goes further, uncovering the long-term impacts of prenatal heat exposure.

The review, which spanned more than 100 years of data, analyzed studies from various countries and climates. It found that individuals exposed to extreme heat in utero are likely to experience life-long adverse effects. These include poor educational performance, lower income, and increased health risks later in life.

Educational and Economic Impact

In the United States, individuals exposed to high temperatures during the first trimester of pregnancy saw a decrease in annual income by approximately $56 for each day the mother’s temperature exceeded 32°C.

The review consistently found a link between prenatal heat exposure and lower educational attainment and income levels in adulthood.

Health Outcomes

The review identified a higher risk of heart disease, hypertension, childhood asthma, and pneumonia among those exposed to high temperatures in utero. For instance, the risk of childhood pneumonia increases by 85% for each degree rise in temperature during pregnancy.

In African countries, prenatal heat exposure was associated with increased malnutrition rates among children, while in the United States, it was linked to a higher risk of obesity.

Mental Health

Several studies found a connection between prenatal heat exposure and an increased risk of mental illnesses, such as eating disorders and schizophrenia. Researchers noted that the month of birth, previously linked to mental health risks, could be influenced by prenatal heat exposure.

Experts suggest multiple pathways through which heat exposure during pregnancy might affect long-term health. These include maternal health deterioration due to conditions like pre-eclampsia and diabetes, direct impacts on fetal development, increased risks of premature birth, and potential alterations in the unborn child’s DNA.

“We propose that the effects of heat during pregnancy on the unborn can occur in several ways,” said Dr. Taylor Perron, a geologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “This includes direct developmental impacts on the nervous system and changes in the epigenetic signature, which can alter gene expression.”

Implications and Future Research

Despite the significant findings, researchers stress the need for more studies to fully understand the mechanisms and impacts of prenatal heat exposure. They emphasize the importance of addressing climate change to mitigate these health risks.

“The research underscores the need for immediate action to combat climate change and protect vulnerable populations, especially pregnant women and children,” said Dr. Rose Palermo, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

As global temperatures continue to rise, the health and well-being of future generations depend on the steps taken today to address and mitigate climate change.

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